According to the forum’s final communique as published on the Food Regulation Secretariat website, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has been tasked to ‘develop this mandatory labelling standard as a priority’, and the work is to ‘be completed expeditiously’.
“Government advice in Australia and New Zealand is that pregnant women do not consume any alcohol,” said the communique.
“If a baby is exposed to alcohol in the womb it can have irreversible impacts such as intellectual, behavioural and developmental disabilities.
“[Based] on the evidence, a mandatory labelling standard for pregnancy warning labels on packaged alcoholic beverages should be developed and should include a pictogram and relevant warning statement.
“The Forum requested FSANZ develop this mandatory labelling standard as a priority and that the work be completed expeditiously.”
The forum comprises ministers from the two Oceanic countries. It has a major role in developing policy guidelines that FSANZ must take into consideration when determining food standards.
Responses to pregnancy warning labelling becoming mandatory
On the whole, the alcohol industry appears both receptive and supportive of the decision.
Local alcohol industries have been applying pregnancy warning labels on a voluntary basis since 2011, but only achieved a 75% compliance rate.
Brewers Association of Australia CEO Brett Heffernan said: “[The] decision […] is a no-brainer. We fully expected this outcome.
“After six years (sic) of voluntary pregnancy labelling […], the best the alcohol industry could muster was 75 per cent compliance. Clearly, that’s nowhere near good enough.
“Our members – Carlton & United Breweries, Lion Beer Australia and Coopers Brewery – have been 100 per cent compliant with the voluntarily labelling regime since 2014. […] We are perplexed as to why others in the industry failed to heed the writing on the wall.”
Spirits and Cocktails Australia, the Australian Distillers Association and the Winemakers Federation of Australia have also expressed support for the decision.
However, Alcohol Beverages Council Executive Director Nick Leggett is less optimistic about the outcome.
“We would always say that this is about education, it's about ensuring that GP's and midwives are supported and have all the information that relates to educating about risks with drinking during pregnancy," he said to RadioNZ.
"It's not just sticking a label on a bottle and hoping for the best and I think people who think that is going to fix a problem here will be sadly disappointed."
A brief history of the pregnancy warning label
The current pregnancy warning labels were developed by DrinkWise Australia, an independent organisation focused on creating a healthy and safe drinking culture.
“DrinkWise advocacy for the inclusion of the pregnancy messaging on alcohol labels has seen the majority of alcohol products sold feature the logo or message and over 250 additional downloads of the logo by industry participants,” it said via its website.
“[We] support measures that increase awareness of the message that it’s safest not to drink while pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breastfeeding.
NOFASD Australia, which focuses on initiatives surrounding FASD, added that: “NOFASD Australia believes that it is unacceptable that alcohol products, a proven teratogen, or agent that can cause harm to the developing fetus, continue to be sold without a health warning.”
“[The] implementation of a mandatory pregnancy health warning label on all alcohol products must coincide with a comprehensive national public education campaign.”
For the current decision, many are recommending that use the DrinkWise label be continued.
Alcohol Beverages Australia Executive Director Fergus Taylor, said to TheShout: “The current DrinkWise pregnancy label has been effective in raising high levels of awareness among pregnant women and it’s important it continues as the industry standard.
“This will also ensure businesses that have complied and displayed the correct labels will not have to incur the additional cost of re-labelling their products for a second time.”
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
FASD is a condition resulting from parental alcohol use during or while planning a pregnancy, resulting in alcohol exposure to the fetus.
According to the NOFASD website, ‘alcohol can cause damage to the unborn child at any time during pregnancy, even before a pregnancy has been confirmed’.
FASD was one of the key factors that the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation took into account when deciding on the pregnancy warning label.
“Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a life-long disability which can be prevented if pregnant women do not consume alcohol,” it said via its final communique.